Review Summary: Deeper abyss, blacker gazeMetempiric
left little doubt that Knoll were an unrelenting tidal wave of roiling savagery and talent in equal measure, an album that so purely melded an almost mathematical tightness in sound with all the deathgrind fury of Trumpeting Ecstasy
that these madmen from Memphis were able to handily carve out their own voice among the blasting barbarism of all their peers. So it was with some serious anticipation that As Spoken
was awaited, all wondering what directions Knoll might be led to through their pursuit of ever-deeper avenues of extremity exploration.
Somewhat to everyone’s surprise, As Spoken
finds Knoll, at least to a degree, eschewing that precise tightness with which they qualified their last assault. Rather, Knoll have adopted a looser, mildly more traditional sound, whose debts are owed to the most extreme corners of black metal rather than the artsy bomb-blast sludgegrind of Full of Hell. In fact, beyond the term “black metal” it’s kind of hard to put on paper what it is that Knoll have so drastically changed with As Spoken
. But the change in effect is tangibly there, a shift in presence that is immediately felt. The shifts in sound don’t so much mark a change in spirit or anything; the Tennessee crew might be tossing a Black Metal Brennus’ sword onto the victory scales laid down by Metempiric, but they’re approaching their material with the same horror-of-the-cosmos philosophy. So, perhaps a change in perspective towards the same object. But whether, and how well, this new approach works is a little bit more of a difficult nut to crack, certainly when compared to the roaring success of the angular, math-tinged spaciousness of this album’s predecessor.
The main effect, given that liberal carving from the most oppressive of black metal quarters is one of profound suffocation, claustrophobia that’s somehow missing the cavernous, cosmic qualities of their previous effort. The music is enveloping, a pervading physical force that is just as much a drowning as previous efforts, but which speaks in tones that are more personally malevolent, more “human”, or more demonic, in their malice. Special mention must go to of course Jamie Eubanks, who remains, I believe, one of the greatest, most purely vile-sounding vocalists in harsh music today. The new Black Metal inflection of his vocals make for some of the most depraved sounds to issue from a human throat, and if there’s a hair less of the nape-tingling versatility than we’ve seen before, the tradeoff comes with a near-impossible increase in sheer turbulence. The band’s renewed commitment to blistering rage, a LaBrea drowning of sludge, oppressive drone that approaches noise at times is no less apparent this time around, but takes a tack that speaks to “an affinity for the old and macabre”, to quote their bandcamp, one that approaches an old sound with all the fury they’ve been screaming with since day one.
The mild word vomit of their self-penned album blurb speaks to an attempt to carve out new symbols from old materials; they refer to themselves at this point as funeral grind, a term which feels both fitting and mildly inadequate; certainly the band is more singleminded in their pursuit of aural extremity than the vast majority of their peers, whatever scene you might compare this to. The sheer weight and savagery of the thing, added to a length that is near-Wagnerian in grindcore terms does make this more of a slow-bloom than their previous works, and one that might alienate some of those who were taken by the more immediate thrills of Metempiric
. And yes, the whole thing is a bit of a sprawl, and some of their avant-garde brushwork is a little haphazard and looser-feeling than their previous work. But As Spoken
more than amply shows that Knoll, even within a newfound affinity for all that is mouldered and cobwebbed, remain one of the most forward-thinking and unrelenting extreme acts active today. And while I’m already getting more and more comfortable with what they’ve done here, I’m also anticipating what pitch-black depths they’re going to plumb next time around.